Navel reconnaissance up the Chickahominy.
[Correspondence of the New York
U. S. S Stepping Stones. Barrett's Ferry, May 28, 1862.
The Stepping Stones and the Island Belle
have arrived thus far on their return from a reconnaissance up the Chickahominy river
We forced our way up within four miles of Jones
's bridge, much higher than any vessel of greater pretensions than a rowboat has ever gone before.
Along the entire route we did not encounter a single obstruction, and not a battery, nor even a soldier--Union or rebel — was to be seen.
But let me be more particular.
Yesterday afternoon, when we returned from our reconnaissance up the Appomattox
, the signal was made on board the Wachesett flagship for all commanding officers of vessels to repair on board.
It was soon arranged that this morning the Stepping Stones
and the Island Belle
should proceed up the Chickahominy
and explore the rivers as high up as was practicable for the vessels to go. The light draught of the two steamers, particularly the Stepping Stones
, admirably accepted them for this duty.
Early this morning we weighed anchor from City Point
, and were soon steaming down the James river
, the Island Belle
following closely in our wake.
At eight o'clock we entered the month of the Chickahominy
, situated a few miles above Jamestown
Here we found a troublesome bar, and nearly ran aground in five feet water.
The Island Belle
was not so fortunate.
She got stuck fast, and we had to turn back to her assistance.
This delayed us nearly an hour.
At length we succeeded in lowing our consort off, after parting a fawner, and proceeded on our on ward course.
The bar passed, the river rapidly deepened, alternating between three and four fathoms nearly all the way up as far as we went.
In come places it was even deeper.
The lend was kept constantly going, to avoid sudden shelling, but the precaution, though a prudent one, turned out to be hardly necessary.
Winding along the serpentine course of the river, we passed through some magnificent scenery.
In many places the river, on either side, was overhung with precipitous banks clothed with dense wood, with a rich undulating country beyond, and occasionally we caught glimpses of extensive fields of wheat.
In some places these fields came down to the water's edge.
Sometimes, too, we encountertered a strip of low, marsby land, overrun with rank, coarse grass, while the broad leaves on the water lily grew plentifully far out into the stream.
Farm houses and private residences were constantly in view, and from nearly every inhabited dwelling a white sheat, tablecloth or anything that could be extemporized into a flag of truce, was displayed as soon as we have in sight.
Hats, caps, and handkerchiefs, too, were waved at us in passing; but whether this may be rightly considered as indicative of genuine Union feeling or was done merely with a view to propitiate us, I am unable to say. As usual, wherever we have been in Virginia
, the people we saw were principally blacks; and truth impalas to add that they were for more demonstrative in their show of welcome than the waits.
Occasionally, however, a white female or child would join in the handkerchief waving.
I need hardly say that white men were hardly to be soon, as most of them are either with the rebel army or have been killed off in the struggle their leaders have provoked.
A great number of houses were shut up, without the at sign of inhabitants in or around them.
After running up a considerable distance we came upon a log house, built on a steep slope.
There we saw a white man, who mat us on the landing in front of his house.
Above, on the high bank, were two grown white females and two or three white children.
The man told us that we could run twenty miles further up, and that we could obtain a pilot at "The Shades. " He said he had been forced into the rebel army, but that he had deserted not liking the service, as he was no believer in secession.
Proceeding on our way several miles further up, the river became quite narrow and apprehensions began to be entertained that if we went much further we would not be able to turn round.
At a sharp elbow we came on an intricate spot, but piles had been driven to mark the channel.
On our starboard side was a high bluff, on the summit of which stood a comfortable locking house, with the usual appurtenances of a residence of some pretension.
Some gentlemen and two or three good looking ladies were standing under an open porch in front of the house, gazing at the novel eight of two armed United States
steamers passing so high up their narrow and tortuous stream; and, presuming that they were unacquainted with the intricacies of the channel at that spot, well might they look, in expectation, perhaps, of some catastrophe.--The piles were safety passed, when suddenly the leadman, from three and a half fathoms, called two, than one and a half, then one fathom, when bump went the bottom of the Stepping Stones
on something hard — probably what is called a "snag" or "sawyer," in the Mississippi
The apprehension, however, was only momentary, for the river immediately deepened almost as abruptly as it had shoaled.
At this moment some one called out that fire or six horsemen were galloping down towards the river, near the house.
In a very few seconds our gun was swept round to the starboard side; but it was soon discovered that the man were in citizens' dress.
We therefore continued slowly on our course.
At this juncture the Island Belle
nearly got rebore again.
Admonished, probably, by our narrow escape from a serious mishap, Captain
, instead of taking the same channel as we did, kept close to the opposite bank, a small island being between the channel he had chosen and the right one.
He backed out in time, and followed in our wake.
He was destined, however, to escape, not altogether scatheless.
His starboard paddle box ran foul of a pile driver, which rather incommoded the narrow channel, overturning the apparatus in a twinkling, but crushing his instate life-boat, which hung at the davits, so badly that he had to abandon it. On rounding another sharp elbow, it was clear that we had reached our limits, for the river had become so narrow that the trees on shore brushed against the sides of the vessels, and the turnings were very about.
Great difficulty was experienced in turning round, the river being barely wide enough to admit of the length of the Stepping Stones
At length the feat was accomplished, and we were soon running down stream on our return from the exploration.
On our way down we called at the plantation of en elderly gentleman named Turner
, where we purchased some eggs and milk.
He professed to be a staunch Union man, but could not help showing the cloven foot, by awaking of the rebel army as "our army."--He told us we were in New Kent county
, and that it was only ten miles across to West Point
He said there had been none of "our army" at that place for some weeks, but that some Federals had been in the neighborhood about ten days since, a piece of information I am afraid I did not receive with much gratitude, seeing that I could have told the old gentleman so much two weeks ago. He charged 50 cents a pound for his batter, and 25 cents a dozen for eggs and, on our caterer demurring to the price, he thought to use a convincing argument by observing that "our soldiers" paid those prices.--We did not see it in that light, and remarked that there was a trifling difference between Uncle Sam's well-fed sailors, who had the pier of every market on there rs, and Jeff Davis
's soldiers, who were glad to get what they could at any price.
Besides, there was another trifling difference between a s and good and lawful coin of the republic.
That was a clincher and we got the eggs for ten coats a dozen, receiving a small quantity of butter for some coarse park salt — an article more badly wanted than almost anything else.
is equally scarce.--A white man, from whom we bought home chickens, for which he received three or four s in silver, declared that he had not handled so much specie for twelve months.